Residents who filed an appeal of the Department of Public Works’ decision not to plow their private roads this winter have two more weeks to get their roads up to snuff in order to receive services this winter.
At a meeting held on Tuesday afternoon, DPW officials and members of an appeals subcommittee of the board of selectmen agreed to an extended deadline for making necessary improvements to these roads. The original deadline date was October 1 and residents had until November 1 to file an appeal, requesting another inspection of their roads. The new deadline date is November 30.
After conducting a second inspection of the 24 appeals that residents filed to get their roads off the no plow list, officials ruled that 15 of those roads now meet the minimum standards for receiving plowing services.
Officials gave three of the 24 roads conditional approval, pending the trimming of some trees and bushes and the removal of basketball hoops. But six of the roads, even after extensive work was done, remained on the town’s no plow list.
Due to overhead clearance issues and failure to meet the 16-foot width requirement, J. Braden Thompson remains on the list, something that frustrated Laura L. Tompkins, who lives there.
During the public forum portion of the appeals meeting, Ms. Tompkins told the subcommittee that she called the town’s Engineering Technician Sean P. Harrington in August or September so that he could inspect the road with her and tell her what still needed to be done to bring the road into compliance without having to go through an appeals process. But she said, Mr. Harrington did not respond to her request. As a result, she said, there was more pruning and trimming that needed to be done but did not get completed because she was not aware of these issues. “This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen,” she said.
Ms. Tompkins questioned the need for the 16-foot width requirement, calling it too wide. She said that pickup trucks are used to plow her road, not the big DPW plows that need wider clearance.
Department of Public Works Director Paul S. Tilton explained that the minimum width requirement is necessary because if the road requires sanding, the town would send its large trucks, that have 10-foot-wide plows on them, to do that work.
Ms. Tompkins added that although the road may be a bit narrow, the width has never prevented plow trucks from getting through in the past and that the road is no less narrow than some town owned roads.
“You are trying to get private roads to meet standards that public roads don’t meet. Plows have gotten in and out of this road in the past without getting stuck. I can’t figure out why we have these new standards. We are going through a lot of work here for six roads to get the services we have always received,” she said.
Mr. Tilton said nothing in the town’s winter maintenance policy has changed since it was adopted in 1994, but he is now trying to enforce the standards in it, as a way to be fair to both residents and plow drivers.
“These are the same standards we have had in place for 20 years. Over the last five years, we have had more and more problems with plows breaking down and contractors getting stuck. We want to apply the rules. We want to make it efficient for snow plow drivers and everything we are doing, we are doing in the best interest of the town,” Mr. Tilton said.
Selectman Linell M. Grundman, a member of the subcommittee team reviewing the appeals said, “the town was placed on notice two years ago. Everything we have been talking about has been leading up to this.”
Barbara A. MacLean who lives on Putting Green Circle, another one of the six roads which remains on the no plow list, also questioned the enforcement of the town’s policy.
“I’ve lived here for 50 years and we never had an issue with plows getting stuck,” she said.
Mr. Tilton said it is not unusual for a private contractor to get stuck on a private road, due to narrow width or some other defect and for large DPW trucks to have to be diverted from one of the main public roads to help tow the private plow. “And then we have to plow the private road with one of our trucks. It happens every year,” Mr. Tilton said.
Ms. MacLean said this year, she and her neighbors spent over $8,600 to have their road paved and trees and bushes pruned. Still, she said, it was not enough.
“It is important for us to be plowed. There is a 91-year-old woman living on that road and the fire department has had to go to her home twice. If the road isn’t plowed, somebody could die. This is a safety and a health issue,” Ms. McClain said.
Mr. Tilton explained that it is not unusual for the fire department to contact the DPW when an emergency call comes in during a storm asking for crews to clear the road ahead of them so that they can get to the call.
Resident and local attorney Jonathan D. Fitch, who lives on Great Island Road, which also failed to meet minimum standards, questioned many things about the policy including the use of the word policy.
“A policy by definition is a set of general principles by which a government is guided to achieve a certain goal. These are rigid standards which are being strictly applied and that is in direct contradiction to the concept of a public policy,” he said.
He, too, pointed out that some public roads do not meet the standards set in the policy. “Public ways are automatically plowed because they are public and not because they meet the standards set in the policy.
People living on public ways and private ways pay the same tax rates. I do not understand the rigidity of this policy,” he said.
Mr. Fitch named three public roads that do not meet requirements of the town’s own policy. “Gully Lane is the same width or less as Great Island Road. There is no turn around; there are overgrown bushes.
Discovery Hill Road has sections that are only 12-feet wide and no turnarounds. Quaker Road does not meet the standards. You are asking more of private road owners and that’s not fair. I applaud the idea of creating standards but they must be fairly applied,” he said.
Mr. Tilton acknowledged that Gully Lane is a narrow road but said because it is a one-way street, there are different requirements associated with it.
Mr. Fitch said the town owns a considerable amount of conservation land that is accessed from Great Island Road. “The town invites the public to use our road to get to that conservation land. To say that you are not going to plow the road after inviting the public to use it is wrong,” he said.
As an ancient way that evolved from a foot path, Mr. Fitch said residents are limited in their ability to widen Great Island Road so that it meets the town’s minimum requirement. “We can’t do it,” he said.
After a number of residents indicated that they could make the improvements to their roads that DPW officials were requesting, the subcommittee agreed to give them until November 30 to complete the work.
Selectman Ralph A. Vitacco reminded the residents, however, that the deadline is a firm date. “On November 30, if the DPW in its professional opinion, says the road does not meet minimum standards, you will not be plowed. These standards have been articulated since January 2012,” Mr. Vitacco said.